About Chickens, and Childrens’ Books

The man plucked a clucking, flapping chicken from a cage, held it firmly by the neck, and held it over a large blue bucket.  He reached for a knife, held it to the throat of the bird, and cut it with one smooth motion before dropping the bird, furiously flapping in its death throes, into the bucket.

My daughter, three years old turned to me in tearful bewilderment.

“Why are they killing the chickens?”.

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I hadn’t intended for her to see this.  We had come to buy coal for a barbecue and in this small mountain town it is only obtainable from the “murghi wallah”, the chicken seller.  In Pakistan life is not as sanitised as it is in the West, where meat is purchased in sterilised, plastic-wrapped containers and the messy business of slaughtering is done in distant and anonymous warehouses.  Here animals are killed in front of you – during the festival of Eid goats, sheep and even cows are slaughtered in driveways and in the streets – and I have come back from the bazaar several times clutching a bag of chicken pieces, still warm, with blood oozing out.

I would prefer to shield my kids from the harsh realities of life.  All of the books we read to our kids are unfailingly upbeat, with happy endings.  Babies get lost and are returned, safe and sound, to their parents.  Strangers are friendly and kind.  Trains do not crash, the sun always shines, cats are cuddly and never scratch or bite.  We present our kids with a vision of the world which is, frankly, unrealistic.

And yet as responsible parents we also have an obligation to tell our children, as they grow older, that the world is not as safe as they might like to think.  We teach them to be careful when crossing the road, to be cautious of strangers, to watch out for “bad men with guns” (that last one may be unique to Pakistan, of course).  A few months ago I had to tell my son about “good touching” and “bad touching”, making him aware of the perils of child abuse.  It is heartbreaking, yet apparently it is also responsible parenting.

I can think of no stronger evidence for the brokenness of the world than the fact that as loving parents we need to teach our children to be suspicious, to a certain extent at least, of strangers.  They grow up with a soft and fluffy worldview, living in a world of sunshine and smiles, only to be confronted with the fact that in order to eat meat for dinner, a chicken has to be butchered and die messily in a blue bucket.  Christians, of course, look past this world to another one, a place of renewed perfection, which we await eagerly.

I bet the chickens do, too.

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